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social media addiction

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Social media addiction is an unhealthy dependence on interactive platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Like most dependencies, social media addiction manifests as overuse and difficulty in abstaining. Ironically, one common effect of the problem is social isolation.

As smart phones have proliferated and connectivity has become almost constant, social media addiction has become the most common type of internet addiction. The problem lies not just in user vulnerabilities but also in the role software developers play in exploiting those vulnerabilities and the profit motive that drives them. The attention economy depends upon compelling users to continue interacting with media. Interface features are often designed to that end, for example, using colors and shapes designed to entice the user or to make it difficult to exit.

Facebook algorithms are also designed to keep the user on the platform, for example by calculating time periods when a user is most likely to leave and delivering notifications at that point. Likes, notifications and interesting posts work similarly to physically addictive substances neurologically, creating dopamine-driven feedback loops that tend to keep affected users interacting long past the point where they perceive any psychological reward from the behavior.

A Pew Research Center study reported that American teenagers US have “mixed views” about how social media has affected them and their lives. Former Google engineer Guillaume Chaslot commented on Twitter that the industry “didn’t design it to improve their lives. We designed it to make them hooked to the platform. It worked.”

This was last updated in July 2019

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